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Welfare Brat: A Memoir Hardcover – April 14, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (April 14, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582345864
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582345864
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,487,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Growing up a poor white girl in the Bronx in the 1960s, Childers endured a childhood marred by violence, poverty, neglect and shame. In this poignant memoir, she recounts it all with astonishing honesty and grace. Focusing on her life between the ages of 10 and 16, Childers draws a vivid portrait of a family fighting for survival, triumphing over unwanted pregnancies and cruel boyfriends, and held together by an alcoholic but occasionally heroic single mother. The strength of this heartrending tale lies in its contradictions: Childers loves her family but also bitterly resents them, longing for the day that she can escape only to find that she misses them when she is gone. The depth and complexity of the individuals, particularly Childers's alternately selfish and sympathetic mother, is a testament to her compassion as a writer and her ability to empathize with and forgive people's flaws. Childers neither romanticizes nor bemoans her family's struggle, but tells her story candidly in prose that sparkles with energy and wit, speaking wisely on everything from race relations to the Church's stance on birth control. Although the ending feels somewhat rushed, the book is an insightful and powerful tale that emphasizes "what a heroine you have to be to drag yourself out of bed day after day into minimum-wage jobs, aware that you'll never get ahead and fearful that everything will collapse."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Childers describes her journey from a childhood growing up on welfare in the Bronx, one of seven children with four different fathers, to her life as a consultant with a Ph.D. in English literature. Her family had no phone and occasionally no electricity, and little food; and their mother often disappeared, leaving Mary in charge of her younger siblings. Something in Mary and her sister, Joan, makes them realize that they must break the cycle of poverty, and that the key is education. Mary is placed in accelerated programs, completing junior high in one year, and entering high school in 1966 in the tenth grade. Along the way she babysits to earn her own money, joins a gang until she perceives their hatred of minorities, experiences racial hatred herself after Martin Luther King's assassination, and eventually gets a full scholarship to a small college in western New York. Remarkably free of bitterness as she matures, Childers begins to focus on how hard her mother tried, instead of how often she failed. Deborah Donovan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Bravo, Mary Childers!
Ms. Childers writes in a compelling way, and I appreciated her overall honesty and unglossed account of her childhood.
E. Northrop
I read the book in just a few sittings over a couple of days.
Timothy J. Bazzett

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on July 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Intimate and powerful, Mary Childers' memoir of growing up in urban poverty in the 1960s Bronx leaves haunting images in its wake. Though arising from the usual sad litany of poverty - alcohol, drugs, unpredictable tempers, frightened children, abused women and dangerous streets - these images are singular, personal and painfully complex.

Like the time they had their roach-infested basement apartment painted, because a guy who owed the older sister's boyfriend a favor sent his crew over (this sister, Jackie, a high school drop-out, is already following in her mother's footsteps). Their mother, Sandy, exuberant at the prospect, drags the furniture away from the walls and urges the whole family to paint pictures of their own, whatever they want before the painters come to cover it up.

On the day itself, "no beer bottles in sight," Sandy takes them all to Coney Island, a trip which involves dragging cooler, stroller and duffle bag on two packed trains, where casual violence is always a danger. "Virtually every family on the train designates a hawk to detect the danger zones where action might flare....Everyone knows what happens if you interfere with teenage boys proving their manhood."

Though the lunch is only PB&J, "I'll be happy as long as Mom doesn't buy beer or, even worse, flirt one out of an innocent bystander." She doesn't and the day is idyllic. They take turns guarding the blanket. "I welcome my turn to guard our stuff. Reading on the beach without any of the kids bothering me is one of the most peaceful events of my life."

Sandy caps the day by taking the whole family on the roller coaster. Her glasses fly off in mid-whoop but her daughter Joan snags them in mid-air. Unfortunately a lurch slams her hand on the bar and a lens pops out.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Paulette Kenyon on June 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I am constantly amazed that people in our country continue to demonize the poor. Once again, a glorious book appears documenting the extraordinary lives of poor people. In this case, the classic welfare mother with her large, fatherless brood. This book, like The Color of Water - by James MacBride, Nickeled and Dimed - by Barbara Ehrenreich, and any number of Jonathon Kozel's books, indicate to me one clear message. You have to be extremely resourceful to survive poverty in this country. Even with the blessing of food stamps and welfare, it is still a miracle for someone in this situation to surface and take a breath each day.

I loved the characters in this book, warts and all. I imagined the actress from Malcolm In The Middle playing the role of the mother. She was an imperfect creature - flamboyant, tragic, and funny. I loved her because she never stopped struggling to hold her family together. Hit with the daily assaults only the poor understand, she stood up each day and took it on the chin.

This was actually fun to read. I constantly felt as if I were easedropping on a carefully kept diary of a girl as she grew to womanhood. Her feelings, her embarrassments, her dreads, all exposed like a pimple at a prom.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sonja on April 6, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Mary Childers delivers an eye-opening account of what it's like to grow up poor. In her distinctive, engaging style of writing, Childers describes what it was like to try to assert her own identity, and initiate her pursuit of academic excellence, even when it was not highly valued by her family.

Vacillating between loving and loathing her large brood of brothers and sisters, Childers describes the process by which she forged a path that was very different from that of her family. Childers' unusual spirit allowed her to achieve academically and socially, however, the author does not leave out the harsh realities of trying to achieve in a world that likes to insist that all it takes to "make it" is hard work, when in reality, the odds are stacked against those in poverty. Despite Childers' sharp intellect and determination, she is still mired in a school system that does little to impart the social capital required to navigate the college application process, or understand how to pay for tuition and so forth (this is indicated when Childers describes the application process while in her senior year of high school).

Throughout the memoir, Childers is working--whether it is taking care of her siblings, or working retail jobs after school. So is mostly everyone else in the Childers household--even Sandy Childers. Despite Sandy being portrayed as a slightly less than likeable mother, she never stops raising her children, never walks away from the responsibility she has to them as a parent. Say what you will about the fact that she was on welfare and had numerous children--unlike the men who helped create Childers' brothers and sisters, Sandy never walked away from her kids.

Overall this is a really engaging book; depending on your own experiences, it can also be very eye-opening. Childers is truthful, and a courageous writer.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Maria Beadnell on October 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Many people who overcome poverty are too ashamed to talk about it, or just want to leave it behind. They write autobiographies that gloss it over. Then there are those who milk it for undeserved rewards, romanticizing and embellishing a tough start, as in A Child Called It. Mary Childers seems to have written a completely different kind of book, in the hope that others will understand what it was like not just for her, but for any struggling welfare family.

There's nothing whiny or pleading about Childers' account of her youth, yet I squirmed with discomfort reading it. Too many children to feed and her mother produced another, with her teenaged daughter's boyfriend. Childers as a teenager watching someone else's baby so she could earn enough money for a root canal. Did people really live that way, in America, and recently? Her voice is compelling.

The reason for only 4 stars is the rushed ending. Childers writes, as an adult, of forgiving her mother and believing that she had tried as hard as she could to raise her children well. Bullbleep.

That part was not convincing at all--rather, it sounded like the stuff Childers was forced to say to get people to believe she was two years older in order to get a job. My opinion is that Childers wanted us to believe in her forgiveness just as she wanted people to think she was qualified for jobs she shouldn't have to hold.

And then, why was Mary so different from the rest of her family? In my experience, when a child escapes a bad family there is usually a "compassionate witness," one adult who believes in the child and helps that child to want more. There was no such person in the book, and it is hard to believe there was none in her life.
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